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Going back

Betsan Powys | 21:26 UK time, Monday, 9 February 2009

Back in the year 2000 I got to know a family who live in one of the most deprived areas of Wales. Let's be honest, I got to know them only because they live in one of the most deprived areas of Wales.

Back then the National Assembly was in its infancy and in its red brick home. The debating chamber was a familiar sight on news bulletins the family didn't really watch. Labour had yet to forge a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in a deal the family were unlikely to care about. Rhodri Morgan - yes, Mum and Dad at the very least would know of him - and his minority administration were going it alone, determined that tackling the health and social inequalities between different areas, between different social groups, between different families in Wales should be a priority.

And so there was a new policy initiative about to be launched on the block: Communities First. As the script put it back in 2000: "Their (the Assembly Government's) plan is to tackle deprivation head on in the hope of forging a healthier Wales ... What the Assembly wants is for families like this one to expect far more for future generations than just to manage".

The family, who'd agreed to take part in a programme looking at health inequities in particular, were managing but no more. They weren't aware that they were living in a deprived area but I've just checked and their area of the Cynon Valley is still up there - or down there - with the most deprived Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) in Rhondda Cynon Taf and in the top 10% most deprived category in Wales.

Communities First was a long term plan of course and at its heart was an aim that was spot on: to spend money where communities needed it spent, for the Assembly Government to listen to what people told them they wanted, rather than tell them what they'd heard before.

So nine years on, with the Assembly celebrating its tenth birthday, it's time to go back and to see how the family has fared.

Before I go up to see them this week I know one thing for certain: that in his most recent report the Chief Medical Officer in Wales stated that health inequities remain in Wales. They remain significant in Wales. Overall life expectancy is on the up, deaths from heart disease are decreasing, the health of the nation is improving. But the same report makes it clear that inequalities between different areas, between different social groups, between different families in Wales are not decreasing.

The programme started with shots of the young Nigel running like the wind on the mountain above Perthcelyn. It ended with the obvious: "Where you're born can dictate how long you live ... How well you live plays a part in how young you die".

So this week it's back to meet the family to find out how many have been born since the last time I met them, how well they've lived and whether Communities First has reached out and caught them in its net or not.

Today I've talked of nothing but bankers and bonuses, the Home Secretary's "within-the-rules" expenses claim and the insolvency threat to the restaurant at Llanerch Vineyard: "It's a sign of the times". I've discussed Freedom of Information requests for information regarding Welsh MPs' expenses. I've talked about the methodology of quantifying how much you have appreciated - or otherwise - Rhodri Morgan as First Minister.

If the family want to talk about any of that, I'll be listening. In fact from Wednesday onwards, I'll be doing little but listening to whatever they want to talk about and hoping to learn something of what a decade of devolution has done for them.


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